Speech therapy is a type of therapy to help a child learn how to produce specific speech sounds. Speech sound acquisition is not necessarily in a hierarchy where they will all develop 1 specific sound first, for example, not every child will learn the "p" sound first. Children can learn to produce different sounds in a variety of combinations. However, there is somewhat of a developmental sequence to when children will master certain speech sounds. There are developmental speech errors and non-developmental speech errors. Developmental means that it is a typical error based on the child's age and they still have time to acquire that sound. Non-developmental means that the errors need to be addressed in speech therapy as they've passed the age of acquisition and the errors are still consistent.
How does speech therapy work?
There are several different approaches that a speech therapist could choose to use to teach your child better articulation. The approach chosen will be based on your child’s particular speech errors, before targeting speech sounds they may need to work on Oral Motor Exercises to strengthen their articulators (lips, teeth, tongue) to better produce the sounds. Here are the main two approaches to speech sound therapy:
Articulation Approach The speech therapist will target a specific sound and teach that sound from the ground up. Here are the steps:
Teach the child to produce the sound in isolation (by itself). The therapist will use different cues to try to help the child produce the sound correctly. For example, the therapist may tell the child to keep his tongue behind his teeth while producing the /s/ sound..
Put the sound into simple CV (consonant-vowel) combinations. The speech therapist will help the child put the sound together with different vowels to make simple syllables, such as: "say, see, sigh, so, sue”
Say the sound in simple words.
Use the soundin simple phrases.
Use the sound in simple sentences.
Practice carry-over. The speech therapist will help the child remember to use the sound consistently, such as while reading or describing pictures in a book, during a game, or during a craft activity.
This is a very straight-forward approach that parents can often do at home to help their child learn a new sound. Just follow the steps above and move to the next step when the child can do the previous with a high frequency of success.
Phonology Approach This approach is a bit more complicated as the speech therapist is addressing a whole class of sounds. Sounds are separated into different categories, and sound errors are labeled as "phonological processes" where similar errors occur. For example, the therapist may choose to target all the fricative sounds (long sounds like /s/, /z/, /f/, /v/, etc.). They will start by contrasting long and short sounds (like /s/ vs. /t/, /f/, vs. /p/) and move toward producing these sounds correctly.
Here are some charts created by Play With Words 365to better understand speech sound acquisition.